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Toshogu

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on May 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

東照宮
Tōshō-gū (Divine Prince of Eastern Light)
―代将軍徳川家康公
1st Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu
Kunōzan, Nikkō, Tōkyō (Kan’ei-ji, Zōjō-ji), etc.

Grave containing Tokugawa Ieyasu's remains.

Grave containing Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains (Nikko)

Nikkō Tōshō-gū is one of the most famous shrines in all of Japan. It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the whole country. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s kept in excellent condition, so it’s well documented in books and on the internet. For that reason my descriptions of Tōshō-gū probably won’t be long. If you want more info about Nikkō Tōshō-gū (or some other Tōshō-gū), I’ll give some links at the end of the article.

What the hell is a Tōshōgū?

This name marks the enshrinement of the kami named 凍傷大権現 Tōshō Dai-Gongen, the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shōgunate. The name roughly translates as “The Supreme Incarnation of the Divine Prince of Eastern Illumination” (or “Light”).

Technically speaking, Ieyasu was only shōgun for about 2 years. Although he was the de facto ruler of Japan from 1600, he officially became shōgun in 1603. He retired in 1605 and became an 大御所 ōgosho (retired guy pulling the strings from behind the scenes). He did this to establish a clear dynasty and try to oversee the succession of his shōgunate for as long as he could. Around 1607 he moved into 駿府城 Sunpu-jō Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka where he was running things from behind the scenes. Ieyasu finally kicked the bucket in 1616 and was buried and enshrined at nearby 久能山 Kunōzan Mt. Kunōzan. Kunōzan Tōshō-gū is still very much active today.

Kunozan Toshogu

Kunozan Toshogu. The original!

As per Ieyasu’s express wishes, on the one year anniversary of his death, the second shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, moved the remains to the mountains of Nikkō and built a modest temple and shrine complex there where Ieyasu was deified as the divine protector of Japan.

The third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu idolized Ieyasu and threw wads of money at Tōshō-gū for expansion projects which developed the site to the size that it is today. I’ve heard that Iemitsu’s building project cost about $400,000,000.

Main gate of Nikko Toshogu.

Main gate of Nikko Toshogu.

While there are many iconic buildings at Nikkō Tōshō-gū, 2 pieces of artwork achieved international renown after Japan opened up in the bakumatsu; 三猿 sanzaru the 3 “wise” monkeys and 眠リ猫 nemuri neko the sleeping cat.

There is a useless proverb in Japan, 日光を見ない中は結構と言うな Nikkō wo minai uchi wa kekkō to iu na, which always comes up in regards to Nikkō Tōshō-gū. I can’t think of any situation where a person would use this proverb except when they go to see Tōshō-gū and some old person quotes it. It translates as “Don’t say 結構 kekkō until you’ve seen 日光 Nikkō.” The gist of the expression is “you ain’t seen shit ‘til you seen Nikkō Tōshō-gū.” The stupid thing about this proverb is that there’s some kind of half-assed ‘rhyme’ based on the last syllables of both words こう kō. But in modern Japanese, 結構 kekkō is a pretty blasé term. It means “decent” or “that’s fine” or even “no thank you.” Maybe in the Edo Period the meaning was stronger – and maybe people had a higher tolerance for trite expressions. Also, there’s no situation that I can even imagine where saying this would be appropriate, except when you visit Nikkō Tōshō-gū – and even then surely there’s something better to say…. like “wow!”

Ueno Toshogu in the bakumatsu or very early Meiji.

Ueno Toshogu in the bakumatsu or very early Meiji.

The phrase いまいちだ imaichi da (“close but no cigar”) is said to be derived from this area. There was a small town next to Nikkō called 今市 Imaichi. As Nikkō developed into the fantastically beautiful pilgrimage site that it is still today, the neighboring town of Imaichi stayed the same, a backwater mountain town. People would be blown away by Nikkō and then see Imaichi and be all like “Meh.” And so now the word いまいち imaichi means something like “almost” or “not bad” or… well, I think “meh” pretty much sums it up.

Kawagoe Toshogu

Senba Toshogu (Kawagoe)

Fans of the Shinsengumi might be interested to know that after the Boshin War, Matsudaira Katamori, lord of Aizu, was made Chief Priest of Nikkō Tōshō-gū. In this capacity, he continued to serve the Tokugawa despite the fall of the shōgunate.

Various Tōshō-gū were erected around Japan. I’ve mentioned the first two, in Kunōzan and Nikkō. In Tōkyō, there is one in Ueno Park, former Kan’ei-ji, which is very nice. There is another one in Shiba Park at Zōjō-ji, which was rebuilt after the firebombing in WWII. There is a huge gingko tree said to have been planted by Tokugawa Iemitsu which survived the bombing and is a cultural asset of the Tōkyō Metropolis. Kawagoe has a somewhat famous Tōshō-gū. Nagoya also has a famous Tōshō-gū. This spring I was in Gyōda, Saitama, which is the straight up boonies and even they had a Tōshō-gū. There was also a Tōshō-gū in 紅葉山 Momijiyama, one of the gardens on the premises of Edo Castle. In fact, all the shōgun’s were enshrined in Momijiyama. But when the Meiji Emperor moved into Edo Castle, he fucking tore all of them down.

Dick move, bro. Dick move.

Momijiyama Toshogu

Momijiyama Toshogu (Edo Castle Toshogu, Tokugawa Shogun Cemetery). This picture depicts Momijiyama and you can see Tokugawa Iemitsu returning by palanquin from veneration at the shrine.

In the Edo Period there were nearly 500 shrines called Tōshō-gū throughout the country, there are thought to be about 130 today. The shōgunate expected daimyō to venerate Tōshō Dai-Gongen (Ieyasu) routinely. But daimyō processions were extremely costly. This is the reason that so many Tōshō-gū were built all over the country. Of course, under the best of conditions, Nikkō Tōshō-gū was the preferred destination for adoration of Ieyasu. But sometimes things didn’t work out, and in those times, daimyō could attend to their veneration duties at a local Tōshō-gū.

Hiroshima Toshogu

Hiroshima Toshogu


For More Information About Nikkō Tōshō-gū

List of Tōshō-gū Shrines (Japanese only):
http://www.toshogu.net/list.htm
(This site includes links to websites/contact information for many Tōshō-gū)

Nikkō Tourist Association has some good information on the sites of Tōshō-gū in English, albeit a fairly clumsy translation:
http://www.nikko-jp.org/english/toshogu/index.html

  1. Great stuff as usual!

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